– Durgaprasad Bhandari

Higher education with investment in global research and student collaboration, critical for countries economic and social growth is badly affected in this pandemic. The Universities are closely monitoring the impacts of COVID-19 on higher education around the world. It is hard to know when life will return to normal once this phase is over. It triggers the discussion on the implication of COVID-19 to the higher education sector in the internationalization agenda in particular. This opens the debate that exists between the two lines: The impact of COVID-19 will only be temporary?  Or COVID -19 pandemic crisis will change higher education and internationalization forever?

These differed opinions in one way express a sense of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and loss while in another way express hope, excitement, and possibilities. These two different perspective and illusion on the same phenomenon possibly depends on how we define internationalization and mobility. There are many aspects of the internationalization of higher education. Its purpose can be academic, sociocultural, diplomatic, and fiscal. But until now the internationalization of higher education has been regarded mostly as global mobility rather than a means of connectivity through online research, teaching, and learning. Prevailed policies, existing curriculum, and practices in higher education failed to integrate students’ diverse international and intercultural experiences at home. For the conceivable future, if internationalization is to remain a crucial feature of university life, we must re-imagine internationalization during this pandemic.

Considerable research is already available to help us to re-design internationalization in a non-mobile world. Recently the survey has been conducted under the EU co-funded project “A step forward in the internationalization of Higher Education Institutions in Nepal and India (InterNepInd)” to identify the best practices for the Internationalization of higher education in India and Nepal to serve as a basis for the internationalization processes in Indian and Nepalese Higher Education Institutes (HEIs). This research was born as a result of cooperation between Nepal Engineering College, (nec), Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena (UPCT) Spain, Sarvajanik College of Engineering & Technology (SCET), India, Nalla Malla Reddy Engineering College (NMREC), India and Vivekanand  Education Society’s Institute of Management Studies and Research (VESIM), India , in the framework of Erasmus+  KA107 an Erasmus+ funded program for the  capacity building in higher education which is directly managed by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) of the European Commission located in Brussels.

The results were analyzed for the best practices in the Internationalization of Indian and Nepalese HEIs to develop internationalization strategies further. Only around 40% of surveyed HEI’s had initiated activities on the Internationalization of higher education. Further, HEIs which were involved in internationalization activities were mostly Self-financed and Private unaided. The study findings also revealed that though most HEIs considered Internationalization an essential strategy and implemented it for the last two to three years, however, many HEIs did not have a formal policy, and many of them did not incorporate Internationalization in their vision or mission statement. Most of the HEIs have given Student mobility with 58.1% as most valued activity for Internationalization. Simultaneously, strategic partnerships (14.0%) and capacity-building programs (11.6%) were the second and third respective priorities of HEIs across India and Nepal. These three priorities help present new challenges and interpretations for students and academic staff of institutions, helping them become more rounded. International mobility is not only about academia and studies, the other experiences and skills that accompany outward mobility often have the most significant impact on student development.

Many technical /structural impediments such as Credit Transfer problems, Lack of Support by University/ higher authority, and Inadequate Financial Resources need to be addressed. Apart from this, many HEIs were considering Brain Drain, difficulty in assessing the organized quality of courses/program offered by foreign institutes and accessibility of International Opportunities as a critical potential risk of Internationalization which needs to be answered. By exploring and describing the current practices, challenges and impediments of the Internationalization of higher education in India and Nepal, this study provides future direction and suggestive strategies of Internationalization opportunities in India and Nepal.

The term global learning provides universities with a way of developing a curriculum that engages all students in interdependent global systems for prosperity and the earth’s sustainability. Various attempts of global partnership have already been done to foster the synergies across the globe for global learning, research and innovations which helps to advance the living standard in the sustainable way.

Institutions need to capitalize on their current investment in digital leaning technologies which has afforded many to work off-campus. This way of working provides an incredible opportunity to strengthen internationalization through the electronic linking of the global educational sector. Programs such as Global learning, Collaborative Online International Learning and Virtual Internships offer exciting potential to engage all students in intercultural learning on a global scale during the pandemic. However, the transition to online learning is provoking panic-gogy in many quarters, as faculty and students need to adjust a lot to the online learning environment at an unprecedented pace. Some love it, some hate it. In most cases stakeholders in the country like Nepal have felt the infrastructure barriers problems from broadband internet access to the device availability following the poor and down going economy.

This crisis provoked by COVID-19 has radically changed the way we conduct the teaching learning activities. Stakeholders in the academic field have felt the necessity of online resource sharing irrespective of the whereabouts they belong to in the globe. The sudden tilt to online learning is rapidly changing our approach, habits and reshaping our thinking.

But there is no answer to the questions like: Where will these changes lead? What might this new experience of global online learning be while at home mean for internationalization in the longer term? When can we travel once again? Will it lead in the long term to more inclusive approaches to global learning? Or will we simply slip back into old ways of thinking in higher education, with a primary focus on mobility for a minority of students?

Both the mobility and global online learning are not exclusive approaches and both are needed and equally powerful if done well. Just as travelling can be considered as elitism, ‘at-home’ pedagogies may risk the perception that those global problems can be solved in the comforts of one’s home. We can conclude that online and distant education is developing as a tool of globalization, focused on reaching the entire university community and other stakeholders whereas the international mobility of students, academic and staff members who support direct participants is a tool for internationalization of higher education. Nevertheless, as with any crisis the post-Covid-19 pandemic will offer a unique opportunity to future function and direction of Higher Education and its internationalization.

(Mr. Bhandari is Associate Professor and Vice Principal of Nepal Engineering College)